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Haunting Legacy

Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama

Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb

The United States had never lost a war —that is, until 1975, when it was forced to flee Saigon in humiliation after losing to what Lyndon Johnson called a "raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country." The legacy of this first defeat has haunted every president since, especially on the decision of whether to put "boots on the ground" and commit troops to war.

In Haunting Legacy, the father-daughter journalist team of Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb presents a compelling, accessible, and hugely important history of presidential decisionmaking on one crucial issue: in light of the Vietnam debacle, under what circumstances should the United States go to war?

The sobering lesson of Vietnam is that the United States is not invincible —it can lose a war —and thus it must be more discriminating about the use of American power. Every president has faced the ghosts of Vietnam in his own way, though each has been wary of being sucked into another unpopular war. Ford (during the Mayaguez crisis) and both Bushes (Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan) deployed massive force, as if to say, "Vietnam, be damned." On the other hand, Carter, Clinton, and Reagan (to the surprise of many) acted with extreme caution, mindful of the Vietnam experience. Obama has also wrestled with the Vietnam legacy, using doses of American firepower in Libya while still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The authors spent five years interviewing hundreds of officials from every post war administration and conducting extensive research in presidential libraries and archives, and they've produced insight and information never before published. Equal parts taut history, revealing biography, and cautionary tale, Haunting Legacy is must reading for anyone trying to understand the power of the past to influence war-and-peace decisions of the present, and of the future.

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Hell in An Loc

The 1972 Easter Invasion and the Battle That Saved South Viet Nam

Lam Quang Thi

In 1972 a North Vietnamese offensive of more than 30,000 men and 100 tanks smashed into South Vietnam and raced to capture Saigon. All that stood in their way was a small band of 6,800 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers and militiamen, and a handful of American advisors with U.S. air support, guarding An Loc, a town sixty miles north of Saigon and on the main highway to it. This depleted army, outnumbered and outgunned, stood its ground and fought to the end and succeeded. Against all expectations, the ARVN beat back furious assaults from three North Vietnamese divisions, supported by artillery and armored regiments, during three months of savage fighting. This victory was largely unreported in the U.S. media, which had effectively lost interest in the war after the disengagement of most U.S. forces. Thi believes that it is time to set the record straight. Without denying the tremendous contribution of the U.S. advisors and pilots, this book is written primarily to tell the South Vietnamese side of the story and, more importantly, to render justice to the South Vietnamese soldier.

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Hog’s Exit

Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA

Gayle L. Morrison

It just didn’t sit right. Not with his friends, not with his coworkers, not with his hunting and fishing buddies, and certainly not with his family. The American Embassy in Bangkok had reported the accidental death of Jerry “Hog” Daniels by carbon monoxide poisoning. Three decades later, his family and most of his friends remain unconvinced that the U.S. government told them the truth about his death.
            As a former CIA case officer to legendary Hmong leader General Vang Pao during the “secret war” in Laos, Jerry Daniels was experienced, smart, and careful. Those who knew him well said he wasn’t the type to die as reported. Raising even more doubts, his casket was “Permanently Sealed” by the U.S. State Department before being shipped home to Missoula, Montana, where he was honored with a three-day funeral ceremony organized by his former comrades-in-arms, the Hmong hilltribe warriors from Laos.
            This book examines the unique personality and reported death of a man who was a pivotal agent in U.S./Hmong history. Friends and family share their memories of Daniels growing up in Montana, cheating death in Laos, and carousing in the bars and brothels of Thailand. First-person accounts from Americans and Hmong, ranchers and refugees, State Department officials and smokejumpers capture both human and historical stories about the life of this dedicated and irreverent individual and offer speculation on the unsettling circumstances of his death. Equally important, Hog’s Exit is the first complete account in English to document the drama and beauty of the Hmong funeral process.
            Hog’s Exit provides a fascinating view of a man and the two very different cultures in which he lived.

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"I'm Not Gonna Die in This Damn Place"

Manliness, Identity, and Survival of the Mexican American Vietnam Prisoners of War

By the time of the Vietnam War era, the “Mexican American Generation” had made tremendous progress both socially and politically. However, the number of Mexican Americans in comparison to the number of white prisoners of war (POWs) illustrated the significant discrimination and inequality the Chicano population faced in both military and civilian landscapes. Chicanos were disproportionately “grunts” (infantry), who were more likely to be killed when captured, while pilots and officers were more likely to be both white and held as POWs for negotiating purposes. A fascinating look at the Vietnam War era from a Chicano perspective, “I’m Not Gonna Die in this Damn Place”: Manliness, Identity, and Survival of the Mexican American Vietnam Prisoners of War gives voice to the Mexican American POWs. The stories of these men and their families provide insights to the Chicano Vietnam War experience, while also adding tremendously to the American POW story. This book is an important read for academics and military enthusiasts alike.
 

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In Buddha's Company

Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War

by Richard A. Ruth

In Buddha’s Company explores a previously neglected aspect of the Vietnam War: the experiences of the Thai troops who served there and the attitudes and beliefs that motivated them to volunteer. Thailand sent nearly 40,000 volunteer soldiers to South Vietnam to serve alongside the Free World Forces in the conflict, but unlike the other foreign participants, the Thais came armed with historical and cultural knowledge of the region. Blending the methodologies of cultural and military history, Richard Ruth examines the individual experiences of Thai volunteers in their wartime encounters with American allies, South Vietnamese civilians, and Viet Cong enemies. Ruth shows how the Thais were transformed by living amongst the modern goods and war machinery of the Americans and by traversing the jungles and plantations haunted by indigenous spirits. At the same time, Ruth argues, Thailand’s ruling institutions used the image of volunteers to advance their respective agendas, especially those related to anticommunist authoritarianism.

Drawing on numerous interviews with Thai veterans and archival material from Thailand and the United States, Ruth focuses on the cultural exchanges that occurred between Thai troops and their allies and enemies, presenting a Southeast Asian view of a conflict that has traditionally been studied as a Cold War event dominated by an American political agenda. The resulting study considers such diverse topics as comparative Buddhisms, alternative modernities, consumerism, celebrity, official memories vs. personal recollections, and the value of local knowledge in foreign wars. The war’s effects within Thailand itself are closely considered, demonstrating that the war against communism in Vietnam, as articulated by Thai leaders, was a popular cause among nearly all segments of the population. Furthermore, Ruth challenges previous assertions that Thailand’s forces were merely "America’s mercenaries" by presenting the multiple, overlapping motivations for volunteering offered by the soldiers themselves.

In Buddha’s Company makes clear that many Thais sought direct involvement in the Vietnam War and that their participation had profound and lasting effects on the country’s political and military institutions, royal affairs, popular culture, and international relations. As one of only a handful of academic histories of Thailand in the 1960s, it provides a crucial link between the keystone studies of the Phibun-Sarit years (1946–1963) and those examining the turbulent 1970s.

47 illus., 2 maps

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In Whose Eyes

The Memoir of a Vietnamese Filmmaker in War and Peace

Tran Van Thuy and Le Thanh Dung. edited, adapted, and introduced by Wayne Karlin. translated by Eric Henry and Nguyen Quang Dy

Trân Van Thuy is a celebrated Vietnamese filmmaker of more than twenty award-winning documentaries. A cameraman for the People's Army of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, he went on to achieve international fame as the director of films that address the human costs of the war and its aftermath.

Thuy's memoir, when published in Vietnam in 2013, immediately sold out. In this translation, English-language readers are now able to learn in rich detail about the life and work of this preeminent artist. Written in a gentle and charming style, the memoir is filled with reflections on war, peace, history, freedom of expression, and filmmaking. Thuy also offers a firsthand account of the war in Vietnam and its aftermath from a Vietnamese perspective, adding a dimension rarely encountered in English-language literature.

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The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans

Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam

Arthur J. Dommen

"Dommen's book promises to be the definitive political history of Indochina during the Franco-American era." -- William M. Leary,
E. Merton Coulter Professor of History, University of Georgia

This magisterial study by Arthur J. Dommen sets the Indochina wars 'French and American' in perspective as no book that has come before. He summarizes the history of the peninsula from the Vietnamese War of Independence from China in 930-39 through the first French military actions in 1858, when the struggle of the peoples of Indochina with Western powers began.

Dommen details the crucial episodes in the colonization of Indochina by the French and the indigenous reaction to it. The struggle for national sovereignty reached an acute state at the end of World War II, when independent governments rapidly assumed power in Vietnam and Cambodia. When the French returned, the struggle became one of open warfare, with Nationalists and Communists gripped in a contest for ascendancy in Vietnam, while the rulers of Cambodia and Laos sought to obtain independence by negotiation.

The withdrawal of the French after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu brought the Indochinese face-to-face, whether as friends or as enemies, with the Americans. In spite of an armistice in 1954, the war between Hanoi and Saigon resumed as each enlisted the help of foreign allies, which led to the renewed loss of sovereignty as a result of alliances and an increasingly heavy loss of lives. Meticulous and detailed, Dommen's telling of this complicated story is always judicious. Nevertheless, many people will find his analysis of the Diem coup a disturbing account of American plotting and murder.

This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand Vietnam and the people who fought against the United States and won.

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Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 1

Ken Wachsberger

This enlightening book offers a collection of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam Era as written and told by key staff members of the time. Their stories (as well as those to be included in Part 2, forthcoming) represent a wide range of publications: counterculture, gay, lesbian, feminist, Puerto Rican, Native American, Black, socialist, Southern consciousness, prisoner's rights, New Age, rank-and-file, military, and more. The edition includes forewords by former Chicago Seed editor Abe Peck, radical attorney William M. Kunstler, and Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, along with an introductory essay by Ken Wachsberger.
     Wachsberger notes that the underground press not only produce a few well-known papers but also was truly national and diverse in scope. His goal is to capture the essence of "the countercultural community."
     A fundamental resource for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of a dramatic era in U.S. history.

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Invisible Enemies

The American War on Vietnam, 1975-2000

Edwin A. Martini

Beginning where most histories of the Vietnam War end, Invisible Enemies examines the relationship between the United States and Vietnam following the American pullout in 1975. Drawing on a broad range of sources, from White House documents and congressional hearings to comic books and feature films, Edwin Martini shows how the United States continued to wage war on Vietnam "by other means" for another twenty-five years. In addition to imposing an extensive program of economic sanctions, the United States opposed Vietnam's membership in the United Nations, supported the Cambodians, including the Khmer Rouge, in their decade-long war with the Vietnamese, and insisted that Vietnam provide a "full accounting" of American MIAs before diplomatic relations could be established. According to Martini, such policies not only worked against some of the stated goals of U.S. foreign policy, they were also in opposition to the corporate economic interests that ultimately played a key role in normalizing relations between the two nations in the late 1990s. Martini reinforces his assessment of American diplomacy with an analysis of the "cultural front"—the movies, myths, memorials, and other phenomena that supported continuing hostility toward Vietnam while silencing opposing views of the war and its legacies. He thus demonstrates that the "American War on Vietnam" was as much a battle for the cultural memory of the war within the United States as it was a lengthy economic, political, and diplomatic campaign to punish a former adversary.

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The Irony of Vietnam

The System Worked

Leslie H. Gelb with Richard K. Betts

“If a historian were allowed but one book on the American involvement in Vietnam, this would be it.” —Foreign Affairs When first published in 1979, four years after the end of one of the most divisive conflicts in the United States, The Irony of Vietnam raised eyebrows. Most students of the war argued that the United States had “stumbled into a quagmire in Vietnam through hubris and miscalculation,” as the New York Times’s Fox Butterfield put it. But the perspective of time and the opening of documentary sources, including the Pentagon Papers, had allowed Gelb and Betts to probe deep into the decisionmaking leading to escalation of military action in Vietnam. The failure of Vietnam could be laid at the door of American foreign policy, they said, but the decisions that led to the failure were made by presidents aware of the risks, clear about their aims, knowledgeable about the weaknesses of their allies, and under no illusion about the outcome. The book offers a picture of a steely resolve in government circles that, while useful in creating consensus, did not allow for alternative perspectives. In the years since its publication, The Irony of Vietnam has come to be considered the seminal work on the Vietnam War.

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